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On This Date in Sports July 31, 1948: Olympic Dead Heat

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

American Harrison Dillard captures the Gold Medal in the 100-meter race at the London Olympics. Dillard wins the closest race in Olympic history while equaling Jesse Owens's Olympic record by running the race in 10.3 seconds. Harrison Dillard crossed the finish line nearly simultaneously with fellow American Barney Ewell, as a photograph had to be reviewed to be determined the winner. It was the first photo finish in Olympic history.

William Harrison Dillard was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 8, 1923. While at Baldwin-Wallace College, Dillard was drafted into the Army, where he served in the 92nd Infantry Division. The unit was composed entirely of African Americans and was better known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

After the war, Harrison Dillard returned to school. He continued to compete in track and field, hoping to follow in their footsteps and qualify for the 1948 Summer Games in London, like his idol Jesse Owens, a native of Cleveland. Dillard’s best event was the 110-meter hurdles, but during the Olympic trials, he failed to qualify. Instead, he qualified third in the 100-meter race.

Heading into the games, Barney Ewell of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was the favorite to win the Gold Medal in the 100-meter race. A star athlete at Penn State, Ewell took the Olympic Trials by storm, equaling Jesse Owen's World record by running the race in 10.2 seconds. Dillard and Ewell performed well in the preliminary heats at the London games, setting the stage for the six-man final, featuring three American runners at London’s Wembley Stadium. The race was run in just over ten seconds, with Barney Ewell and Harrison Dillard crossing the line ahead of Lloyd LaBeach of Panama, taking the Bronze Medal. Ewell thought he had won until a photo revealed that Dillard crossed the line a split-second sooner, finishing in 10.3 seconds.

Harrison Dillard and Barney Ewell combined efforts later in the 1948 games to win the Gold Medal in the 4×100-meter relay. Ewell would also lose a close finish in the 200-meter to American Mel Patton. Dillard meanwhile added two more Gold Medals at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, claiming individual success in the 110-meter hurdles and again winning as part of the 4×100-meter relay. With his hurdle Gold Medal in 1952, Harrison Dillard is one of three men, along with Walter Tewksbury and Harry Hillman, to win a sprinting gold and a hurdle gold medal.